Understanding demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency financing


by Anna Carlson, NW CERT Coordinator

The Headwaters Regional Development Commission (HRDC) recently used grant funding from CERTs to conduct a community survey in Beltrami County, Minnesota in order to identify and understand the community’s renewable energy and energy efficiency financing needs.

HRDC partnered with the Sustainability Office at Bemidji State University for the project and commissioned the University’s Marketing Assistance and Research Solutions (MARS) program to carry out the survey.

The Process

In the fall of 2014, the Headwaters Regional Development Commission (HRDC) assessed and evaluated the level of small business interest in renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Bemidji area – as well as the availability of financing tools for such projects. Before starting on the project, HRDC connected with the Sustainability Office at Bemidji State University for guidance. Staff in Bemidji State University’s Sustainability Office recommended the MARS program as a project partner. HRDC contracted MARS student workers to implement and analyze a survey of small business owners about their interest and engagement in energy improvement projects. MARS conducted the survey through a combination of focus group discussions and a 13-question phone survey to which 84 businesses responded.

The Outcome

Based on the survey analysis HRDC completed a paper entitled, “Understanding and Catalyzing Local Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.” The findings and recommendations in the paper are intended to help the Bemidji community in strengthening energy efficiency and renewable energy support programming.

The survey and the resulting paper revealed a strong interest in sustainability and energy efficiency among Bemidji businesses. Several have already conducted energy efficiency retrofits such as lighting replacements, HVAC installations and window upgrades, and 63 percent had thought of making efficiency-related improvements. However, the vast majority had not received any technical consulting and were concerned about the financial investments involved in implementing such projects, indicating a need for energy audits and financing tools to overcome the high upfront costs.

Download the paper HRDC recommended the following action steps to pave the way for more widespread community adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects:

  • Integrating energy education resources into the Northwest Small Businesses Development Center’s platforms;
  • Pairing business owners with energy representatives to provide information about energy opportunities;
  • Creating a voluntary business energy rating system that compares the energy consumption of participating businesses;
  • Incentivizing the development of streamlined, third-party financed energy service agreements (ESAs) unique to the Bemidji area;
  • Piloting a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing district for the city of Bemidji or Beltrami County;
  • Conducting a solar feasibility study for Bemidji’s residential and commercial buildings;
  • and partnering with a utility to implement a pilot-scale on-bill energy financing program, potentially with help of state or federal grant.

Want to learn more? Download the paper.

Moving forward, HRDC hired an intern to promote energy projects in the community. Several local initiatives have developed to ease the financing process, including a bank that has expressed strong interest in creating energy-related financing tools.

The Players

Headwaters Regional Development Commission (HRDC): The Headwaters Regional Development Commission was formed in 1971 to help improve the quality of life at the citizen, community and regional level. HRDC works with customers and partners on projects that address pressing community needs, from housing to hunger to sustainable energy. Each year, HRDC manages a handful of contracts with local governments and other local leaders.

Bemidji State University Sustainability Office: The Sustainability Office serves as the primary facilitator in Bemidji State University’s move towards becoming a more ecologically and economically sustainable campus community. The office is responsible for the education, communication, planning and implementation of environmental initiatives on campus, and also acts as a connector to community-focused environmental efforts.

Bemidji State University Marketing Assistance and Research Solutions (MARS) program: BSU’s MARS program connects junior and senior marketing students with hands-on work experience in the community, supporting the students’ education and the success of the Bemidji business world. Students conduct research for their clients, which is reviewed by the program director to ensure the businesses are receiving comprehensive but targeted marketing research.

Project Snapshot

  • Project cost: $6,525
    • NW CERT Seed Grant: $3,000
    • Leveraged resources: $3,525
  • Outreach: 239 community members total
    • Involved community members: 150
    • Reached community members: 84
    • Involved students: 5

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Minnesotans building a clean energy future


    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission